Endomag was founded by Quentin Pankhurst, Audrius Brazdeikis, and Simon Hattersley (L-R above), as a spin-out from the University College London (UCL) and the University of Houston. With a cross-Atlantic partnership at its heart, it was natural for Endomag to establish its operations ultimately between the global technology centers of Cambridge, UK and Austin, Texas.
Endomag’s history dates to 2003 when Prof. Pankhurst and Prof. Brazdeikis met in Houston through the ‘UK/Texas Collaborative Initiative in Bioscience’ sponsored by the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). As a result of their discussions, they agreed to combine their areas of expertise to develop a totally new range of medical devices for the detection of disease including cancer and heart disease.
In 2004, the team applied for and received funding under the DTI Initiative to tackle a clear unmet clinical need – resolving the availability of sentinel lymph node biopsy for surgically staging breast cancer due to the procedure’s reliance on radioisotopes. Recognising that a system based on magnetics could address the availability of the standard-of-care, Prof. Pankhurst and Prof. Brazdeikis shared development responsibilities between their institutions. Prof. Brazdeikis was responsible for the magnetic sensor and Prof. Pankhurst and Simon Hattersley (initially seconded from the instrumentation R&D company Sira and subsequently a UCL Research Fellow) were responsible for the system as a whole. Their objective was to develop a device capable of detecting 100 micrograms of iron oxide nanoparticles at a depth in tissue of 20 mm. This challenging task was the equivalent of detecting one millionth of the Earth’s magnetic field at the tip of the probe, while screening out all background noise.
The team developed a prototype system from 2004-2007 based on a liquid nitrogen-cooled (-196 oC) Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) arranged as a magnetic susceptometer. The resulting handheld probe carried both nanoparticle-excitation and sensing signals in an unbroken loop to the cooled SQUID sensor, meeting the sensitivity requirements and demonstrating its efficacy in a 12-subject clinical trial.
The results were promising enough to attract seed investment from UCL’s technology transfer office (UCL Business plc), the Bloomsbury Bioseed Fund and the Combined London Colleges University Challenge Fund, and Endomagnetics Limited was founded in April 2007.
However, many practical issues were unresolved. In particular, challenges around the robustness and safety of a liquid nitrogen-cooled system and the state of development of SQUID sensors meant that a cryogen-free approach was essential. This was a particularly challenging technology problem, and it attracted support from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) in 2008. After extensive development work in 2008-2009, Simon Hattersley developed a completely electronic solution able to meet the sensitivity requirements without a cryogenically-cooled sensor. The TSB-sponsored collaborative research project linked Endomag with medical device manufacturer, Integrated Technologies Ltd., and led to the production and regulatory approval of Endomag’s first product by the end of 2010 – the Sentimag®.
While no longer involved in its day-to-day operations, the founders continue to contribute to Endomag through a variety of technical collaborations enhancing their legacy.
Prof. Quentin Pankhurst
Prof. Pankhurst is the Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at University College London (a world top-10 rated institution) and Director of the UCL Healthcare Biomagnetics Laboratory. He runs internationally leading research programs aimed at making practical advances in the use of magnetics in healthcare, and works closely with industry on such matters. Born in New Zealand, he came to the UK in 1983 to study solid state physics at the University of Liverpool, where he stayed, apart from a two-year foray in Canada, until joining UCL in 1994.
Prof. Audrius Brazdeikis
Prof. Brazdeikis is a Research Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Houston and an Adjunct Associate Professor at UT-Health Science Center-Houston. He is a principal investigator of HTS Biomagnetic Imaging Laboratory at the Texas Center for Superconductivity (TcSUH), and his research is focused on magnetic nanoparticle synthesis and associated applications such as imaging (MPI), hyperthermia, prenatal diagnostics, and functional heart diagnostics. He has authored over 50 original scientific publications in leading scientific journals and has 3 issued US patents. He is also an independent technology consultant to Baylor College of Medicine, UT-Health Science Center and Texas Heart Institute.
Mr. Hattersley has a Cambridge Physics background, and over 25 years’ experience designing systems, electronics and embedded software for advanced instruments. Simon devised the principles of operation of the Sentimag, and supports in developing future instrument systems. He has a detailed understanding of control systems, signal and image processing algorithms, and is also a founder of Michelson Diagnostics.